Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Television drama generally exploits the merest fraction of the advantages available to it over and above theatrical writing, but one device which has been fully explored is the arresting intercut opening, a sequence which rapidly flicks between two contrasted scenes, usually to establish some ironic point. There was a good example at the beginning of Tony Marchant's Into the Fire (BBC1). Exterior: a tuxedoed man is stumbling along a clinkered railway track towards a tunnel mouth. Interior: well-brandied businessmen are gathered to listen to the Minister for the Board of Trade deliver a morale-boosting speech; he had seen a sign, he jokes, which read "Owing to the need to make economies, the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off", but those days are over. Cut back to wild-eyed man and the sound of the track's ominous jangle growing louder. A few edits later and he has effectively liquidated his interest-rate problems.

Frank Candy, the hangdog hero of Marchant's morality mini-series, encounters the cleaning-up operation on his way back from the dinner. Frank, it is clear from his confident first-naming of the senior policeman, is a stalwart of the local community but he has problems too, problems greatly amplified by his own rectitude. He won't skimp on quality like his rivals and he won't lay off workers (indeed he took a drop in profits to make it through the last two recessions without sacking anybody). As if that wasn't enough, he serves as a soft-hearted magistrate and is active in local charities. Short of a scene in which Frank restores an injured animal to health with the mere touch of his hand, Marchant could hardly have made it clearer that this is a tale of a righteous man, not a natural sinner.

It isn't long, though, before cancelled orders and copyright cheats persuade Frank to a rather drastic form of pragmatism - he leapfrogs the quality short-cuts or redundancies urged on him by his wife and finance director and goes straight for a major insurance fraud. Frank "commissions" an arsonist who has come up before him on the bench (his clutching at the vocabulary of commerce is an example of the alertness of Marchant's writing at his best). When a young man, employed at the factory, is accidentally killed in the fire, Frank's conscience, already ponderous enough to make him sag visibly, looks set to crush him. The victimless crime has a victim and will claim more.

Marchant is not a writer afraid to spell things out, and some moments in Into the Fire jar by their sleeve-tugging explicitness. You wonder whether it was really necessary to make Frank's son an expert in corporate presentation, a professional prevaricator to set against Frank's obdurate honesty. It doesn't help either that Donal McCann's performance as Frank is a strangely uneven thing, lurching from behaviour that is only a whisker away from derangement to a bland mask of indifference. These changes of gear are in the script - a faint but persistent sense that Frank is driven as much by Marchant's need to complicate his ethical maze as by some internal engine of character. Having said that, his ambition to explore abstract issues through ordinary lives is too rare to be lightly dismissed. The three-part series has been scheduled over successive nights, which makes artistic as well as strategic sense. Marchant is interested in the way that a single "mistake" can grow in quite unpredictable ways, so his story needs this headlong rush to work effectively - pressing the audience as hard as his characters.

Under the Sun's (BBC2) film about a bride fair in Morocco offered a neat antidote to Valentine's Day - the thoroughly businesslike courtships of the Ait Haddidu, who romance by means of an annual marriage market - a giant singles day at which men and women parade for a partner. Patti Longton's film followed Fadma, a divorced 27-year-old, and Aisha, a 14-year-old first-timer and was, through no fault of the director, slightly anti-climactic; neither concluded a deal but the vision of that biblical gathering offered fair consolation.